Last month, I got a call about a swarm from a bee tree (a tree with a colony of wild bees). The bee tree had already thrown a primary swarm the week before and this was a secondary. Secondary swarms may have mated or virgin queens in them (or both). My son and I went to pick up the swarm which was easily accessible in a lilac bush. While we were there, I asked the owner where the primary swarm was found. She showed my the tree and to our surprise, there was another secondary swarm in the same place. So, it was a two-fer day! We put the lilac swarm in one box and the spruce swarm in another and took them home.
We put the lilac swarm in the Hello Kitty hive next door, and put the spruce tree swarm in a top bar hive out in Hygiene (a very clean town). Each hive had one or two partial combs in them because they were set up as swarm traps. One of the combs in the the Hygiene hive had some honey on it and when I opened up the hive to put the swarm in, there were some robber bees on that comb. But I put them in anyway, and then left them alone for a week to let them settle into their new digs.
I went back a week later to check on the Hygiene hive. When I got there, bees were hanging out at the entrance which looked good, but when I opened up the hive where the old, empty combs were at the front, there were no bees. The swarm had absconded! I figured the robber bees had been too much of a nuisance, and they didn’t like that, so they left. The owner of the property said there were a lot of bees around her flowers, but there were none in the hive. In retrospect, I should have put it in the other hive on the property.
A couple of weeks later, I went over to the property again to set up both empty hives with some new bee attractant (Swarm Commander) to hopefully catch a swarm. Bees were still hanging out in front of the hive that I put the swarm in, but when I looked inside, there were just a couple of bees on the empty combs. I figured that the robber bees had dropped honey down into the eco floor of the hive and bees were just attracted by the smell. I took out the comb that had the honey on it (even though there was none there now) and closed it up.
Last week, I caught another swarm and this time I decided to put it in the other empty hive, to keep them away from the robber bees. As the owner and I were standing there, I could swear I saw a bee fly into the other hive with pollen on her legs. The hive had a follower board about 17 bars back and I had a thought that maybe the original swarm was back behind there. I popped a bar up, but the hive was empty behind the follower board too. I checked in the front again, and it was empty. I took one of the trap combs and put it in with the new swarm so they would have something to hang out on.
Yesterday, Diana and I went over to check on the new swarm and also make a new stand for their hive. It was perched on an old dresser that was slowly rotting away and was pretty wobbly. We had a wicked wind storm the day before and I woke up in the middle of the night thinking that maybe the hive had blown over (what, me worry?). But the hive was okay when we got there and we made a new stand out of some large logs that were laying around.
As we were standing there, I was telling Diana about the other hive and how the bees seemed like they were living there. She said maybe it’s “Beewee’s Playhouse” and the bees just like to go over there and hang out. After we got the swarm hive all settled on it’s new stand, I told her I’d show her what the playhouse hive looked like inside. This time I opened a bar back near the follower board and an angry cloud of bees came flying out! They hadn’t absconded, they were just building up in the back of the hive instead of the front! The lost swarm had been found!
I closed up the hive, but decided to go back over today. Because they were so angry, I thought they might be queenless. They had been in there for a month and if they started with a virgin queen and she got eaten on a mating flight, then they might be at the point of having a laying worker. But to my surprise, they had built 5 beautiful white combs, some with eggs, some with capped brood and some with pollen. I found the queen on one of the combs, so I can stop worrying, at least for today.
I can’t believe that for all the times I opened the hive, I never saw the colony and they weren’t bothered by me. So, the lesson is – always look through the entire hive before counting your bees lost.